During my career with Population Services International (PSI), building YouthAIDS, and then Maverick Collective, Ashley was an incredible force in both telling the stories of women we had met and harnessing thought leaders and influencers to raise much-needed resources. For the last 15 years, she and I traveled together all over world, visiting programs where we campaigned for women’s sexual reproductive health and safety. We visited hospitals, schools, impoverished communities, slum dwellings, and brothels in remote and rural areas to understand the magnitude of the issues facing girls and women and their bodies. One thing we saw time and time again was that fem bodies all work the same way - we all bleed, we all have reproductive organs, we all have sex (often forced), and we are all at risk of violence and exploitation. Trauma is trauma whether you live on one dollar or thousands of dollars a day.
We saw first-hand that the poverty and gender-based violence women experience are magnified tenfold in times of war, such as exists today in Ukraine. During the Sex, Body, and Soul podcast episode and Instagram Live, Ashley and I talked about the importance for us all of leaning in during these desperate times because women’s bodies don’t stop working during times of war. Periods continue. Babies are born. But at best, basic hygiene products like tampons, pads, and soap are unavailable. In the second week of their war on Ukraine, Russia bombed a maternity hospital with deadly results. There is no end in sight to this conflict. Many Ukrainian refugees escaped with only the clothes on their backs and need humanitarian assistance. They also need their dignity.
Ashley told me about her work with the United Nations to get urgent supplies to people in desperate need, not just in Ukraine, but all over the world. It inspired us at The Body Agency to develop our own Dignity Kit containing much-needed survival items like period and safety products for Ukrainian women and girls. We quickly teamed up with Vital Voices, Better Academy in Poland, and all our corporate partners to get these kits delivered as soon as possible, and into the hands of girls and women. Some of these women are heading back to Ukraine now to join the fight (with our kits!). You can donate a Body Agency Dignity Kit to a Ukrainian refugee for $49 online by clicking here. This kit will remain a Body Agency staple after the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has ended for women and girls who live in other conflict regions.
When you give your life to service of any kind (from global humanitarianism to caring for your own family), you are often not on your own to-do list. Ashley taught me that if I don’t look after myself, I won’t be useful to others. When she shared with me much of her childhood, sexual abuse and struggle with depression and anxiety, I looked deeper into myself at my own history of family trauma. Eating disorders, family mental health issues, period taboos, the pleasure gap, the heartbreak of infertility, the roller coaster of parenthood, and the silence around menopausal changes – I’ve experienced them all. I am so grateful to Ashley for her partnership and for believing in me. She gave me the courage to start The Body Agency so I can help others navigate these challenges with self-care and education.
During the podcast, Ashley shared with me her deeply personal journey of how she overcame childhood trauma and sexual abuse, including sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein that prompted her to expose him. She talked about what it takes to be able to be vulnerable and enjoy intimacy and physical pleasure. Ashley first told me about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory and abusive behavior 12 years ago, before it was widely reported, and she became a leader in the #MeToo movement and a founding member of TIME’S UP. Her treatment helped her find her voice, feel validated, and to hold him accountable for his sins. She has forgiven him, but in her words, “Forgiveness is no favor. I do it for myself.”
People who experience this sort of trauma often suffer lifelong physical and emotional consequences, including an inability to experience or enjoy physical intimacy with equal partners even after the abuse has ended. Fortunately for Ashley, she was able to get treatment for her early childhood experiences, helping her give back the toxic shame she felt, and to understand it had never been her shame to carry. “Trauma not transformed is trauma transferred,” she likes to say. For people who have different experiences, I join Ashley in urging you to please seek evidence-based, trauma informed care.
At the heart of The Body Agency, our mission is to make sure girls and women all over the world have access to health care. Our non-profit arm, TBA Collective, a 501(c)(3), focuses on helping ensure that the next generation of youth really understand their bodies and how they work, and have access to products and services they need to thrive. We are thrilled to have a partnership with the George Washington University, which is currently providing us with some wonderful fellows and other resources as we build out the Collective and do vital research so we can scale this work across the world.
Be good to yourselves and love that body you are in.
All my love,